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What Is a Cestui Que Trust?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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In the intricate world of trust law, every taxpayer is a cestui que trust, a term that, while steeped in history, remains relevant today. Originating from French and meaning "that person," a cestui que trust is essentially the beneficiary of a trust arrangement. According to the American Bar Association, trusts are utilized by over 20% of U.S. households, underscoring the prevalence of this legal relationship. While the term "cestui que trust" has largely given way to the more modern "beneficiary," its legacy persists, particularly in legal discourse and historical documents. Understanding this concept is crucial for taxpayers who, knowingly or not, often engage with trust mechanisms, whether through estate planning, asset protection, or investment strategies.

The cestui que trust has a named equity in a trust, but does not have legal title. A trust may include several individuals named as beneficiaries, as for example in a family trust where all the children in a marriage have an equitable share in the trust. The trust is managed by a trustee. Trustees are responsible for handling the trust, making decisions about how to use the assets in the trust, and preserving the contents of the trust for the beneficiaries.

Trusts are structured in a number of different ways. The cestui que trust can receive regular payments or other benefits from the trust, or the trust may be used to hold property for someone. As an example, if young children are orphaned by their parents, a trustee might hold their family home in trust until they come of age, allowing them to stay at home under the care of a guardian without losing the rights to the home.

Once a trust is established, it is difficult to revoke, making it important to structure trusts carefully. The cestui que trust must also use care in dealings with the trustee. Suspicions are naturally aroused when business dealings between trustees and beneficiaries occur, and the trustee is obligated to document any dealings to confirm their validity and make it clear that no coercion or other pressures were involved. Likewise, the trustee must also document all decisions made about the trust to justify them; if assets are sold, for example, the trustee must show when, how, and why, and must document that the proceeds of the sale were put back into the trust or used to cover expenses directly related to the trust.

Ownership of assets in a trust may revert to the cestui que trust when a triggering event occurs, while in other cases, it may be held permanently by the trustee or appointed agents. Some historic homes, for example, are held in trust for conservation purposes, and cannot legally be sold or transferred.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a cestui que trust?

A cestui que trust is a beneficiary who has equitable title to trust property or assets. This is known as cestui que confidence in the judicial system. This means that the recipient does not have legal ownership or control over the property, but just the right to use and benefit from it. The trustee is responsible for overseeing the management of the trust's assets and ensuring that those assets are distributed to the beneficiaries in line with the trust's terms.

How can one establish a cestui que trust?

A cestui que trust is created when a trust is established and a beneficiary is named for the trust.. Although the beneficiary is the one who actually owns the property or assets in the trust, the trustee is the one who has legal ownership to them. It is the duty of the trustee to oversee the management of the assets held in the trust and ensure that those assets are dispersed among the beneficiaries in accordance with the conditions of the trust. The beneficiary has the right to utilize the property or assets and benefit from them, but they do not legally belong to the beneficiary and they are not under the beneficiary's control.

What advantages does having a cestui que trust give you?

The provision of a mechanism for holding and managing assets for the benefit of beneficiaries is one of the advantages provided by a cestui que trust. Other advantages include the protection of assets from creditors or other legal claims and the guarantee that assets are distributed in accordance with the wishes of the grantor or trust creator. In addition, a cestui que trust might bring tax savings and estate planning advantages.

Who can build a cestui que trust?

Anyone who wants to hold and manage assets for the benefit of beneficiaries can establish a cestui que trust for themselves or for someone else. This can refer to individuals, families, corporations, and organizations all at the same time. The grantor, also known as the trust creator, is required to draft and execute a trust agreement before a cestui que trust may be established. Moreover, the trustee and beneficiaries must be named.

What is the main distinction to be made between a regular trust and a cestui que trust?

The beneficiary of a cestui que trust holds equitable title to the assets, whereas the trustee of a regular trust holds legal title to the assets on behalf of the beneficiaries. This is the primary distinction between a cestui que trust and a regular trust. In a cestui que trust, the beneficiary holds equitable title to the assets. This indicates that the beneficiary of a cestui que trust does not have legal ownership or control over the assets that are held in the trust, but does have the right to utilize them and benefit from them. The trustee of a standard trust is the person who is accountable for managing the assets of the trust and distributing those assets to the beneficiaries in accordance with the trust's parameters.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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